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Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC)

Port St. Lucie Native Has Unique U.S. Navy Retirement Ceremony

by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Karen Rybarczyk
04 June 2020 United States Navy Senior Chief Kerri Ayo, a native of Port St. Lucie, Florida, assigned to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), retired after 20 years of service in Virginia Beach, Virginia on June 4, 2020.

“After hearing the many benefits and life experiences that were possible via the Navy, I decided it was the right choice for me,” said Ayo. “Once I made the decision to join, I knew that I was going to make a career of it."

As a member of NECC Staff, Ayo served as a Navy Information Systems Technician on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia.

“My rate encompasses both networking and communications,” said Ayo. “Including installing networks, setting up email accounts, ensuring overall network security, and providing ship-to-ship / ship-to-shore / ship-to-aircraft voice communications.”

NECC was established in January 2006. As a force provider for operational commanders, NECC offers a continuum of capabilities that are unique to the expeditionary maritime environment. NECC seamlessly operates with the other services and coalition partners to provide cooperative assistance as requested.

NECC is responsible for organizing, manning, training, equipping, and sustaining the Navy Expeditionary Combat Force (NECF) to execute combat, combat support, and combat service support missions across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations which enable access from the sea and freedom of action throughout the sea-to-shore and inland operating environments.

The NECF is comprised of Sailors skilled in a diverse set of specialized capabilities. These expeditionary Sailors support the U.S. Navy while serving as members of Coastal Riverine and Naval Construction Forces, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, and Diving and Salvage Units; and as part of expeditionary units that provide unique intelligence and logistics capabilities.

“Aside from the great people that I work with, one of the best things about my command is knowing that my work impacts the entire expeditionary force of the Navy,” said Ayo. “Whether it is through providing email connectivity or setting up video teleconferences between our commands worldwide, it is a great feeling knowing I've made an impact on our mission.”

Ayo, a 1997 Port St. Lucie High School graduate, credits her success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Port St. Lucie.

“Well, my Dad actually served in the Navy and always tried to get me to join and I was never interested,” Ayo. “He instilled in me the importance of hard work, dedication, and doing things right the first time. It wasn't until a few years after I graduated high school that the opportunity to join really presented itself and I just decided it was the right time for me.”

Ayo spoke about what that hard work and dedication to doing things right earned her during her twenty-year career.

“Senior chiefs make up just 2.5 percent of the total enlisted force of the Navy and I am very proud of accomplishing that career milestone,” said Ayo. “Having said that, watching my Sailors succeed and knowing they have entrusted me to help them achieve their goals makes my job as a leader very rewarding."

Ayo initially had a big, indoor retirement ceremony scheduled, her family and friends were set to travel to Virginia Beach to witness the long-standing naval tradition and pomp and circumstance which accompany one of the Navy’s most time-honored ceremonies. Then came COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines and those plans had to be canceled.

Unbeknownst to her, the NECC Chiefs Mess, along with the help of Ayo’s husband, planned a surprise retirement parade in front of her house.

Ayo came out of her house in complete disbelief as a Virginia Beach Police car, lights flashing and sirens blaring, moved slowly down her neighborhood street. A line of more than 30 cars, decorated with signs, streamers, and flags, waited behind him.

As each car stopped in front of her house, a member of the command got out and conducted their part of the ceremony at the end of the sidewalk. Chief petty officers, retired and active duty, recited “The Watch” and the Chief Petty Officer’s Creed, and presented a flag. Capt. Nate Moyer presented awards to her and her family and then, finally, she was piped ashore. As she walked down the sidewalk alone, without the normal line up of fellow chiefs on each side, she cried as she saluted.

“It’s awesome because I really didn’t think I was going to have anything,” said Ayo. “I knew I was going to have a little party in Florida with family because I wanted to read my retirement speech for my family and friends to hear. It just shows the meaning of the (Chiefs) Mess and the true sisterhood and brotherhood we have. There were too many tears today.”

Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Ayo, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Ayo is honored to carry on the family tradition.

“I have always been very patriotic and come from a military family,” said Ayo. “I know that my efforts at work, combined with every other service member's, ensure the freedoms that we get to enjoy each and every day. I will always be proud to say that I served my country and wore the uniform of a U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer.”

As a member of the U.S. Navy, Ayo, as well as other Sailors, know they are a part of a service tradition providing unforgettable experiences through leadership development, world affairs and humanitarian assistance. Their efforts will have a lasting effect around the globe and for generations of Sailors who will follow.

“Over the years, I have learned there are many different styles of leadership, that every Sailor is different in their own way, and that it is important to know how to best mentor each one to ensure the success of the division, the command, and Navy as a whole. Hard work and dedication to complete the mission are essential for success.”

Ayo and her family are building a home in Dade City, Florida to be close to family but she’ll continue to mentor and lead future sailors even after retirement.

“I will be teaching high school NJROTC,” said Ayo. “I love the Navy and am excited about the opportunity to still be a part of it and mentor today’s youth."